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Winter 2002 CalBusiness  
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Building a Legacy

Peter E. Haas, Sr., received the Haas School's highest honors - the 2001 Business Leader of the Year and Lifetime Achievement awards - for his lifetime of leadership in business and social responsibility

Watching the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge from his bedroom window, Peter Haas had boyhood dreams of becoming an engineer and building dams and bridges. While his engineering dreams faded, Haas did go on to become a builder. During his extraordinary life, he helped build the largest apparel manufacturing company in the world. Convinced that corporate social responsibility and corporate success are inextricably linked, he became a pioneer of a social responsibility movement that has set new standards for the corporate world. And of the many philanthropic causes he has supported - from United Way and The Jewish Community Federation to childhood development programs for San Francisco's poor - he has been especially generous to his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley.

To recognize the many lives Peter Haas has touched through his work and his philanthropy, the Haas School of Business honored him with its Business Leader of the Year and its Lifetime Achievement awards. Haas School alumni, leadership, and students celebrated Peter Haas with his wife, Mimi, his family, and friends at a special dinner on Nov. 8, 2001. His friends described him as a "mensch," a "cowboy of the quiet poet type," and a "good human being." Said Earl F. Cheit, dean emeritus and a family friend: "We know him best as a friend and valued colleague."

Like his father, Walter A. Haas, Sr., BS 10, and his brother, Walter Jr., BS 37, Peter Haas earned his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and became a lifetime supporter of his alma mater. It's a little known fact that Peter Haas provided financial aid to some Berkeley students in the 1960s. In 1976, he helped the business school create its first career center. In 1989, he and his late siblings, Walter and Rhoda, made a $27 million cornerstone gift to name the Haas School of Business in honor of their late father, Walter A. Haas Sr. The gift inspired 2,000 donors to join them in enabling the construction of the $55 million Haas School of Business facilities, which opened in 1995 - the only building on campus paid for entirely out of private donations.

The Haas family built the jeans business started by a Bavarian immigrant, Levi Strauss, a dry goods wholesaler who came to Gold Rush San Francisco and in 1873 invented the blue jean with partner Jacob Davis. Strauss sold denim tents and pants to the gold miners of California but never married and eventually left his small business to his nephews Sigmund, Jacob, Louis, and Abraham Stern. Walter Haas Sr. married Sigmund's daughter, Elise, and was asked by his father-in-law to turn the business around. Under Haas' leadership and that of his cousin Daniel Koshland, Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&CO.) grew and became a sizable manufacturer.

When Peter Haas Sr. joined his father and brother in the business in 1945, LS&CO. had three small factories - San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Cruz. The company had $8 million in sales, only $2 million of which were denim products; the rest came from its wholesale business. In comparison, at its peak in 1996 the company had $7 billion in sales and operated 85 facilities in 49 countries.

Read more:

Building a Legacy
Building a Committed Workforce
501s Go Global
Sharing with the Community

Haas Building a Legacy
Photo 1: Three generations of Haas executives who built not only the largest apparel company in the world but also became internationally recognized pioneers in socially responsible business leadership (left to right): Walter Haas Jr., his son Robert Haas, Walter Haas Sr., and Peter E. Haas Sr.

Photo 2: In the 40s and 50s, Peter Haas Sr. was among the first US business leaders to integrate plants first in California and then in Virginia.

Photo 3: Peter Haas Sr. started his career with Levi Strauss & Co. at the Valencia Street plant in San Francisco, where he learned how to make the company's legendary 501(r) jeans. Throughout his career, he managed the company's operations and finances, while his brother, Walter Haas Jr., focused on marketing and advertising.
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